Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hike along famous Wisconsin trout stream

Willow River alongside the Trout Brook (Purple) Trail.
Trout Brook (Purple) Trail

Stem, three loops
offer variety of
interesting routes

Day hikers can amble alongside a popular trout stream on the Trout Brook (Purple) Trail at Wisconsin’s Willow River State Park.

A stem and three stacked loops, the trail offers a several hiking options to meet a variety of fitness levels. The majority of the trail is flat and well-maintained.

To reach Willow River State Park, from Interstate 94 take Exit 4 and head north on U.S. Hwy. 12 for about 1.6 miles. When Hwy. 12 turns east, continue straight on County Road U for about 0.3 miles to County Road A, where you’ll drive for another 1.5 miles. Turn left/west into Willow River’s main entrance and follow the park road to a set of three parking lots at its terminus.

The trail can be accessed from the west side of the southern and middle parking lots. Look for the purple trail blaze – the trail starts at the western terminus of the Little Falls (Green) Trail – and cross the entry road. The wide trail enters a woods of mixed northern hardwoods and roughly parallels the Willow River.

In 0.08 miles, the path junctions with the Oak Ridge (Brown) Trail. Continue straight, passing a small wetlands on its south side.

Once you hear the rush of the river over rapids, the path is coming upon a footbridge that marks the southern end of the Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail, which heads north. The footbridge is at 0.62 miles from the trailhead. Additional rapids are west of the bridge.

The Trout Brook (Purple) Trail marks an excellent route for watching birds of all varieties. More than 90 unique species ranging from songbirds to water fowl and even a few raptors have been spotted on the trail.

Don’t be surprised if you also see white-trailed deer along the way. They like the cover and feeding grounds offered by the oak forest to the trail’s south and east.

At 0.72 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach the middle of three stacked loops. They are named here the Western, Middle and Eastern loops based on their compass direction.

Western Loop
From the stem trail, go right/west to the part of the path that accesses both the Western and the Middle loops. In 0.08 miles, the trail junctions with the Western Loop, which heads back to a section of the Willow River known as The Race. At one time, this section of the Willow was a premier trout fishing stream.

Today, brown trout, smallmouth bass and bluegill dominate the Willow. Though long past its peak trout days like so many other rivers, you still can spy a fly fisher out on the banks.

The “three sides” of the western loop run 0.47 miles. They junction on the western side of the middle loop; take the middle loop left/north for 0.17 miles to reach the stem trail and return to the lot.

Middle Loop
To do the Middle Loop, from the stem trail simply avoid turning on any of the junctions and stay on the middle walking path. This route runs 0.84 miles through woodlands before returning to the stem trail.

Eastern Loop
Going left/east from the stem trail onto the Middle Loop provides access to the Eastern Loop.

In 0.1 miles from the stem trail, the path reaches the junction with the Eastern Loop; head left/east onto it. The amoeba-shaped loops runs 0.75 miles and briefly touches the western side of the aforementioned wetlands.

When the trail junctions again with the Middle Loop, go right/north onto it. In 0.27 miles, you’ll reach the stem trail.

Of course, depending on your energy levels, the loops can be combined in a variety of ways to lengthen the walk. Or the loops can be skipped altogether; arguably, the prettiest part of the walk is the stem trail, which if done on its own runs 1.44-miles round trip.

Learn more about nearby day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of St. Croix County.